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Waste reduction urged as demand for recyclables drops

By Jane Byrne , 17-Nov-2008
Last updated on 27-Jan-2009 at 12:06 GMT

A push for waste minimisation and the production of high quality marketable recyclables is being promoted by stakeholders as demand and prices for recycled materials the UK drop significantly.

The drop in prices has been attributed to reduced demand from China in particular for recycled materials, with manufacturers reducing their output due to current economic restraints.

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), the Waste Resources Action Programme (WRAP), the National Industrial Symbiosis Programme (NISP) and the Local Government Association (LGA), said they want to ensure that the recent slump does not undermine public confidence in the value of recycling, nor lead to unacceptable environmental consequences.

“Recycling remains a better, and cheaper, option than sending material to landfill so people should continue recycling,” claims the joint sector statement.

Consumer confidence

However, a spokesperson for the body representing the UK food and drink manufacturing sector, the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), told FoodProductionDaily.com that consumers want to be confident that their efforts to recycle bear fruit by saving valuable resources and the planet.

And the Confederation of Paper Industries (CPI) warns that as a result of the fall in demand, some material collected for recycling could, in the worst case scenario, go to incineration or landfill.

Steve Creed, Director of Business Growth at WRAP, said that the agency believes the current very low prices for recovered materials will be temporary but that there may be increased storage of some materials including plastics, paper, and metal products in the short term until the markets pick up again.

Quality

According to Creed, what has become clear is the importance of the quality of recovered materials, with high quality materials still in demand in the UK and overseas. “Dialogue between waste producers (including local authorities) collectors and waste processors is crucial, to ensure the right quality of material.”

He said that local authorities and their contactors need to ensure that they have a home for materials that are being stored in the short term, that the storage will not compromise the environment and does not lead to deterioration in the quality of the materials that will further reduce their recyclability or value.

Recycling developments

Creed argues that, in terms of recycling levels, the UK has come a long way in the last seven years, before which, he added, there was a limited domestic market for the reprocessing of recovered materials.

He said that much of the increase in the UK’s recycling capacity is as a result of WRAP’s involvement and support, including a partnership with Shotton Paper Mill, providing funding for it to convert to using 100 per cent recycled fibre that has resulted in all newsprint produced in the UK now being made with 100 per cent recovered fibre.

“WRAP also helped fund Closed Loop London – which makes plastic milk bottles back into plastic milk bottles,” he added.

Waste reduction

Meanwhile, WRAP launched an initiative last month aiming at inviting proposals for projects to design, develop and trial innovative processes and approaches to reduce waste in the food supply chain.

The agency said that food companies can help reduce waste through such measures as the use of:

  • Divisible or flexible packaging to aid portioning of food/ingredients by customers such as side-by-side packs, or ‘eat me, freeze me’ packs
  • Resealable packaging to protect and maximise shelf-life and quality of food
  • Shelf-life extending packaging technologies such as breathable films, oxygen and ethylene scavengers
  • Customised, modified atmosphere packs or vacuum-sealed packs where appropriate
  • Smart labels that clearly communicate food conditions to customers and improve inventory control such as time and temperature indicators and radio frequency RFID technologies, and
  • Storage information

According to WRAP, an example of innovation in food manufacturing could be an increase in production efficiency and reduction in waste raw materials or products, reductions in product damage or enhanced freezability of the products.

The closing date for proposals is Thursday 20 November, with shortlisted projects announced on 2 December.

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